Dear Miss Lou: A Cultural Icon Remembered
Published:Tuesday | July 26, 2016 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle
Ten years ago today, the nation lost the incomparable Louise ‘Miss Lou’ Bennett-Coverley. A great cultural icon, Miss Lou championed the movement to get Patois officially recognised as a language. Many of the nation’s greatest playwrights, poets, storytellers, singers and actors were, in many ways, inspired by the work of the late cultural icon. Her contribution to the development of Jamaican culture is so strong that her presence is still felt throughout the diaspora, a decade after her passing. Today, some of those who she inspired remembers the great Louise ‘Miss Lou’ Bennett-Coverley. They leave messages of gratitude as they reflect on the life she lived.
Dr Carolyn Cooper, professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona
“Louise Bennett played many roles – poet, storyteller, folklorist, playwright and actress. One of her most important contributions to Jamaican society is helping us appreciate the value of our local language. If she were alive today, I’d tell her, ‘Nuff thanks, Miss Lou, fi tek shame outa wi eye an mek wi proud a wi culture’.”
Dr Donna Hope, cultural analyst and senior
lecturer at the Institute of Caribbean Studies and the Reggae Studies Unit
“Louise Bennett has inspired me to work with an aspect of culture that is identified with the ordinary, the poor and the dispossessed. She has inspired me to continue to work in the trenches to make sure the contribution of these ordinary Jamaicans, out of whose bellies and on whose backs dancehall culture is created and founded, is not sidelined and is given the merit it deserves here at home. Miss Lou has my signal regard and respect as a true empress of Jamaican culture.
If she were alive today, I would thank her for her work in the field of culture with her push to place Jamaica’s national language – our creole, our Patois – at the forefront of language use. I would thank her for working hard to make Patois an accepted component of our national identity and culture.”
Michael Holgate, play director and choreographer
“She has contributed so much to what we know as Jamaican dialect, that even if you didn’t know her personally, once you are writing in Jamaica and in Jamaican, you are a beneficiary of her great contributions.
“What I love about her is how she used our language and got us to start talking to ourselves in a way that our population speaks. There is nothing more powerful than hearing yourself on a stage, and she gave us Jamaica on stage. I love her sense of humour and her ability to make light of even tragic situations.
“If she were alive today, apart from thank you, I guess I would say, ‘You have done your part to change the face of Jamaica and the face we put out to the world’. So much of the dance and songs that we do is coming from us owning our identity and it’s because she taught us in so many ways to appreciate our voice, so that voice could be spread in so many ways across the arts. A large part of our respect for ourselves is coming from the work that she did.”
Lennie Little-White, veteran film-maker
“From where I sit, her greatest contribution was the fact that she helped to bring legitimacy to the Jamaican language. Her formalising language as part of her poetry and with The Gleaner publishing her work, she created a prototype for people to follow. She was the first person to take the Jamaican dialect and make it palatable to the ruling classes. She helped to give Jamaican poetry a status that did not exist prior to her taking it to that level. So when you look at dub poetry now, and even dancehall, it comes right back to the work that she did. So many hip hop artistes are now doing music using our language, and all that is a tribute to what she started.
She has helped to institutionalise the ‘Jamaicanness’ in us, not just locally, because it has now transcended into the international market. The next major film I’m doing is on her, and I interviewed her for three hours before she passed away, and I give thanks because people like me who come up in an environment where the society looked down on us because we weren’t part of the established, the fact that she could take our language (which is the glove of our people) and make it into something that has now become acceptable means a lot.